Tuesday was the kind of day that keeps Hal ``Skinny' Brown young.
``June the ninth, 1963. June the ninth, 1963,' the old major league pitcher searched through his memory. ``What happened on June the ninth, 1963?'
There was a pause. His brow furrowed. The he smiled. ``First Sunday night game in major league history?' he asked.It was more than a guess. Brown was there, in old Colt .45 Stadium in Houston when it happened.
``The truth is, somebody called last year and told me that I was the answer to a trivia question on a radio station in Buffalo,' he said. ``What pitcher won the first two Sunday night games in major league history?
``You're looking at him.'
The old Houston Colt .45s had not yet become the Astros and the ``eighth wonder of the world,' a building that would become known as the Astrodome, was just beginning to rise as a series of steel girders there beyond the left field fence. The summer already had become typically oppressive in Houston. ``You walk around the block and your shoes squish from the sweat,' Brown remembered. ``So hot, so humid.'
Houston players already were making jokes about the size of the mosquitoes at Colt .45 Stadium. Ken Johnson, one of Brown's pitching teammates, once misplaced his cap and he was told that two mosquitoes had come and taken it away. Johnson didn't doubt it. They treated the stadium daily with a chemical fog that was supposed to suppress the pests.
``It probably kept more fans away than mosquitoes,' Brown said, ``and it was probably more harmful to those of us who were there than the mosquitoes would have been.'
Because Houston becomes more bearable, if only slightly, after sundown in the summer, the Colt .45s petitioned major league baseball's hierarchy for permission to play night games on Sunday. Sympathetic executives approved the switch and Turk Farrell, a big right-hander, was sent to the mound to start that first Sunday night game against San Francisco.
But with two out in the third inning, Farrell suffered a leg muscle spasm and Brown, who already had become a part of Greensboro company McBane-Brown, had to take his place on the mound. The Greensboro native pitched the final 6 innings, yielded only an infield single to Willie Mays and picked up the victory.
He was the starting pitcher three weeks later when Houston played the second Sunday night game in history, went the distance on a night on which the Texas city had turned out to honor St. Louis legend Stan Musial, and shut out the Cardinals, 1-0. Musial had one hit, a single.
``Memories,' he said with a smile. ``After a while, that's all we've got left. I sit at home now and watch games on television and I think about my own career. I can't believe I played big league baseball for 14 years.
``My own grandkids have very little understanding that papa once played in the big leagues. When I was inducted into the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame last summer, I took them with me. One's 12 and one's 17 and they'd never seen 50,000 people in a stadium for a baseball game before and they'd never seen me honored like that.
``That was something special.
``That year in Houston, it was like going back to the minor leagues and with that club they had that year, it was like playing in the minors again almost. Paul (Richards, the team's general manager) had signed all these kids who had never played much of anywhere before. But they were going to be good ones. Jimmy Wynn, Rusty Staub, Joe Morgan. People like that.'
Players who would play in the air-conditioned comfort of the big domed stadium as Houston Astros.
``In '64, they changed the team's name to the Astros,' Brown said. ``So, I became one of the original Astros, but never played in the dome. But still it's kind of nice to be the answer to that Sunday night trivia question.'